President's View

Keeping the public interest paramount

Glen RidgwayG. Glen Ridgway, QC

While news of Premier Campbell’s retirement makes the legislative world somewhat more uncertain, the Law Society does have some requests for changes to our legislation in the pipeline. These relate primarily to strengthening our discipline and regulatory function.

We are asking the Legislature to modify section 3 of the Legal Profession Act, which describes the object and duties of the Law Society. The present section 3 reads as follows:

Public interest paramount

3 It is the object and duty of the society

(a) to uphold and protect the public interest in the administration of justice by

(i) preserving and protecting the rights and freedoms of all persons,

(ii) ensuring the independence, integrity and honour of its members, and

(iii) establishing standards for the education, professional responsibility and competence of its members and applicants for membership, and

(b) subject to paragraph (a),

(i) to regulate the practice of law, and

(ii) to uphold and protect the interests of its members.

Our proposal for the new section 3 reads:

Public interest paramount

3 It is the object and duty of the society to uphold and protect the public interest in the administration of justice by

(a) preserving and protecting the rights and freedoms of all persons,

(b) ensuring the independence, integrity, honour and competence of lawyers,

(c) establishing standards and programs for the education, professional responsibility and competence of lawyers and applicants for call and admission,

(d) regulating the practice of law, and

(e) supporting and assisting lawyers in fulfilling their responsibilities in the practice of law.

This request by the Benchers is to ensure that the purpose of the Law Society — acting in the public interest — is clear. Doing so with a mandate to “protect” lawyers, as presently contained in section 3(b)(ii), clouded the perception of that mandate, if not the mandate itself.

All Benchers believe that the best interests of the public and the best interests of lawyers coincide, but the majority of Benchers felt that the wording of section 3 is important and, as a result, developed the proposed new wording. It was not done without considerable debate and “word-smithing.” Our Independence and Self-Governance Advisory Committee urged this amendment.

The Benchers are also taking steps they believe will improve accessibility to legal advice and representation. We are moving to increase the activities that can be undertaken by articled students and paralegals under the direction of lawyers. Our ability to regulate will be through our regulatory authority over lawyers.

We recognize that these increased functions will require approval by the judiciary insofar as the activity relates to the courtroom. We will be meeting with judges to work this through.

While the Law Society will set parameters, the supervising lawyer will have a lot of say in what a paralegal will be able to do. That lawyer will also be responsible for the paralegal’s conduct and will be subject to the Law Society’s discipline process for failure to properly supervise. Please let us have your views in this regard, and we will keep you informed.

This is my last column as President. Serving as President has been a tremendous honour and, hopefully, something for the public and lawyers has been accomplished during my year. A large “thank you” to the staff of the Law Society, to the Benchers, and to the lawyers of this province for the way I have been treated and the work that has been done.

And by the way — I would have preferred the title of “Treasurer.”